If you want to take a baseball game in the triangle today, the options are certainly not limited. Durham has been home to the Durham Bulls since the beginning of the twentieth century, and Zebulon in Wake County has hosted the Carolina Mudcats since 1991. Apart from the pros, UNC, NC State and Duke have put together quite strong teams.
Baseball had its origins as a sport among prisoners of war during the Civil War, and has established itself as a popular past in North Carolina.
Baseball has been in the state since the Civil War when the Union’s prisoners of war brought the sport to the state. After such a game in the prison yard, an inmate mourned the loss as a prison team from New Orleans suffered at the hands of another prison team from Tuscaloosa. He wrote in his journal that “the cells in the parish prison were unfavorable to the development of the skill of” New Orleans Nine. “of the declaration of independence, and sack and foot races in the afternoon, and also a baseball game.”
Four decades later, the first professional baseball teams arrived in central North Carolina, with the introduction of the Durham Tobacconists in 1902. The team played its first game of the season on May 5, 1902 against Charlotte, losing 12-2. Just two months later, the team collapsed after the owner refused to send players to New Bern for a game.
Neighbor Raleigh had a similar short-lived baseball experience at the turn of the century. The Raleigh senators (later renamed the Raleigh Red Birds) lasted slightly longer than the tobacco chests and fell apart after two years instead of just a few short months.
Professional baseball would return to the area 11 years later in the form of the newly formed Durham Bulls. After a World War I interruption, the Bulls began playing again at the newly minted El Toro Park in 1926. On the opening day of the court, then-Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Landis rode an ox on the court. Tragically, El Toro Park (at the time renamed Durham Athletic Park) burned to the ground in the 1930s, but was rebuilt and continued to serve as the Bulls’ home for half a century.
About the same time, Raleigh experienced its own baseball renaissance. While Durham Athletic Park was being rebuilt, Raleigh built its own stadium called Devereux Meadows. A new team, the Raleigh Capitals, would play there in the 50s and 60s.
As a professional baseball player throughout the United States at the time, the sport was racially segregated. Three black teams would find a home in Raleigh: Raleigh Tar Heels, Raleigh Tigers and Black Star Line. Another, the Black Sox, played in Durham. Very little is known about the performance of these teams, as boxing scores were rarely retained.
Eventually, but just as it had happened across the country, North Carolina baseball was desegregated. In 1957, the Durham Bulls welcomed their first two Black players, Bubba Morton and Ted Richardson. Despite the desegregation of the team, Durham Athletic Park remained segregated. On Bull’s opening day, black protesters poured into the park’s only white section in an attempt to integrate it. Although this attempt ended in failure to escort the protesters out of the park, the DAP would be integrated seven years later in 1964 as a result of community service efforts.
In the late 1960s, the Durham Bulls and Raleigh Capitals teamed up to form the Raleigh-Durham Mets. The two cities played together from 1968 to 1971 before the team collapsed in 1972. Eight years later, in 1980, the Durham Bulls returned, but unparalleled in Raleigh.
In 1995, the Durham Bulls moved from their old home in Durham Athletic Park to the brand new Durham Bulls Athletic Park to much excitement. Construction continued even as the first game began, with workers still “installing billboards outside the outfield walls and seats outside the stadium’s 12 luxury skyboxes,” according to News & Observer.
Since the 1990s, the area teams – especially Durham Bulls, Tar Heels and Wolfpack – have had great success. UNC was second in the 2006 and 2007 College World Series, and NC State appeared in the 2013 and 2021 World Series. The Durham Bulls have gone even further and won championships in their class in 2009 and 2017.
Over the past 150 years, baseball has seen its ups and downs in North Carolina. After its various ebb and flow throughout the twentieth century, it seems that the sport is here to stay (at least in the triangle).
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